Same Dynamic

I’ve wanted to visit the Chesapeake Bay’s Tangier Island ever since I read a travel article about it back in the 1990s. It was first charted by European explorer John Smith in 1608, and its history is completely outsized for a place that is less than 1/2 of a square mile in land mass. The human history stretches from Native Americans through the Revolutionary War and on through to the watermen of the 1800s and 1900s—and many of those same families continue to ply the bay for crabs and oysters to this day.

There has been an explosion of interest in Tangier in the past few years, primarily because it is eroding into the bay at an alarming pace. About two thirds of the island has disappeared since the 1850s, and the rate of loss is now accelerating. Whether the cause is climate change or a natural cycle is a subject of some debate–but one thing that most residents can agree on is their desire to preserve the island.

Our weekend overnight visit wasn’t motivated at all by erosion; quite to the contrary, we were drawn by the sameness of the place. Tangier is disconnected and isolated from the mainland by ten miles of open water, so “conventional” change has been slow to come. And that is definitely a strong part of its draw.

We headed to Tangier on the ferry out of Crisfield, Maryland, on a scorching hot Saturday with our good friends Lou and Kay. We shared our boat with a big group of day-trippers from nearby Dorchester County (maybe 100+ people, very friendly, from two local churches). 

Once at the dock in Tangier, we watched as folks streamed into the few restaurants and the nearby ice cream shop, overwhelming the town and swelling its population by 20% (from 400 to 500+) for a few very busy hours.

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Main street during a peak in visitors

While our fellow travelers enjoyed lunch and bought a souvenir or two, we headed to the south end of the island to spend some time on the beach. And when we got back to town, most had already left for Crisfield on the 4pm boat.

The islanders are friendly and patient, and they clearly benefit from tourism. But I caught myself thinking that it could get old to be looked on as a curiosity, especially when big groups of tourists overrun the place. So we tried to be mindful of that as we made our way through town. After all, we were tourists, too.

Anyway, once the big group was gone, it felt like we got a truer glimpse of Tangier. The restaurants weren’t packed, the streets were quiet, and the locals were still friendly and patient—but with a bit more time to share, and at a pace that one resident described as “island time.”

As for the town itself, there are a few places to eat, a handful of shops, bike and golf cart rentals, and a few B&Bs–including the Bay View Inn and its wonderful hosts, Maureen, Jim and David. The Bay View Inn’s owners treated us like family from the start, even though tourists on Tangier are often called “come-heres” in local parlance. Lou and I took their cue about family and began teasing each other like teenage brothers, which culminated in a breakfast haiku contest that probably isn’t fit for a family blog. But what’s a weekend without a little combat haiku?

As one would expect, things are simple on the island, and there aren’t a lot of amenities. There’s almost no cell reception, and you need to be willing to get a little wet and a little hot and maybe fight a few bugs to really explore the place. Tangier is a beautiful island in the middle of a bay–but it’s not Nantucket, and by all indications it doesn’t aspire to be.

In addition to the excellent sea kayaking (kayaks are available at no charge from the Bay View Inn), a highlight of our visit was a tour of a crab shanty in the main harbor. Ookire Eskridge, a life-long waterman and the town’s mayor, was our tour guide. He was very friendly and very patient (and funny) as he explained what has been his livelihood for decades. The amount of time and effort that it takes to harvest a soft-shell crab is astounding, and I’ll never eat another one again without thinking of Ookire and his shanty.

It’s impossible to understand any place, especially one as complex as Tangier, in a simple overnight trip–but we really enjoyed the opportunity to try. We found the islanders to be kind, independent, resourceful, and proud, and there is a very strong sense of community. A few quick examples: there is a list on the church bulletin board of residents that are “shut-ins” (to encourage regular visits), there was amazing teamwork moving supplies at the dock, and looking for Ookire to arrange our tour involved (unsolicited) help from at least five people.

This is also a community that cares a lot about their island. Many (most? all?) are eager for a sea wall that can help to keep the bay at bay (one resident jokingly asked me to bring two buckets of dirt the next time that I visited). A sea wall is a complicated question these days, but there’s no doubt that Tangier is a treasure.

Sunday afternoon–and our ride home–came too quickly, despite the heat and a little bit of sunburn. These trivial things were just a hint of the challenges and the hard work that it takes to make a living on Tangier–and that doesn’t even take into account the many moods of the open water on the bay. 

When people can somehow stay the same in an ever-changing world, it sets them apart, and not always in a good way (I think of my cousin’s fanny pack, or Aunt Angela’s tube top). But in Tangier’s case, it’s a good thing, and Tangier is an extremely unique place.

My brother is a great writer and he tells me that there are not “degrees of uniqueness,” that something is either unique or it isn’t. But he’s never been to Tangier.

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Cooking Old School In The New Year

Souzz and I often spend New Year’s Eve in the backcountry or in a cabin, and we traditionally make risotto (along with some other fancy dish). The standard bearer of New Year’s absurdity was probably the year that we made risotto with lobster in a five burner kitchen while camping in the snow. We didn’t quite reach that level of absurdity this year, but we at least thought about it.

 

Anyway, with cold rain in the 2019 forecast, we decided to head to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s Dawson Cabin in Pennsylvania, about two hours drive from our home in Virginia. Dawson is one of the lesser visited cabins in the PATC system, maybe because the hike to the cabin is straight uphill. But the hike is short, and Dawson is a hidden gem that is worth the visit! The cabin is well appointed and very well maintained, and it has southern exposure and a beautiful view.

 

For our planned risotto and filet mignon feast, we hauled in a lot of cookware, as well as a five pound canister of propane and a two-burner camp stove. Utility wagons are a great tool for getting bulky gear into walk-in PATC cabins—but dragging them uphill through the mud and over tree roots in the rain might be an acquired taste.

 

When we reached the cabin, we discovered that there was a problem with the regulator on the camp stove, so the stove and propane were basically flammable barbells. The issue was clearly beyond what I could field-repair, and fiddling with high-pressure gas connections is exciting in any circumstance–but especially so in a remote wood-framed structure. I’m also kind of fond of my eyebrows.

As a consolation, at least we had some good appetizers.

With appetizers gone and still five hours to New Year’s, we had a new twist: how to make risotto without a modern camp stove. But there was a perfectly serviceable wood stove sitting right at our feet, so how hard could this be?

Tending a wood stove is always important in a PATC cabin in winter, although the goal is usually just heating the place. But now we had to figure out a way to keep the heat somewhat constant.

Ok, so I get that wood stoves have been around for generations, and my friends in bush Alaska are probably rolling their eyes by now (well, at least Ruby is…but in my defense, I don’t remember seeing a lot of risotto on “Life Below Zero“).

It took a little fiddling to maintain the level of heat on the cooktop, and there were times when we had to cool things off by lifting the pan onto a hastily made wire trivet (using a piece from a broken dartboard that we found in the cabin).

 

But we figured it out, and the risotto was quite good. And the keys to good risotto are the same whether on a modern range or on a wood stove: using homemade stock (way less salty), heating the stock quite a bit before adding, and cooking the risotto at high heat (ideally enough heat to finish the job in less than 20 minutes). With too little heat, things take a long time and the risotto gets sticky.

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We paired the risotto with filet mignon, which we grilled over wood fire coals. And note Souzz’s thumb print in the steak. I guess that’s how real chefs figure out if it’s done.

Lastly, our stove challenge gave us the chance to puzzle over why we go to primitive cabins and then haul in hundreds of pounds of fancy gear. That seems about as logical as getting the turbo option when you buy a Ford Fiesta. So maybe simplifying things should be our New Year’s Resolution? Well, that and preserving my eyebrows.

 

Swiss Time

I’ve wanted to hike hut-to-hut in Switzerland for years, but planning such a trip always seemed like a daunting task. For starters, there are more than 150 huts in the Swiss Alpine Club system, which seemed totally overwhelming. And the language barrier for someone that doesn’t speak Swiss German is big, as almost all of the websites and information are in Swiss German (go figure).

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Looking down at the Terrehutte and the clouds

Enter our good friends Reto and Annika, who live near Zurich and know a thing or two about these huts. They helped us plan a three day trip of about 30 kilometers on the Greina Plateau in the south central part of Switzerland–and by “helped us plan,” I mean that they planned it. Best of all, Reto came along (perhaps he thought we could use a chaperone?).

 

Getting from Zurich to the trailhead near Vrin was ambitious enough, requiring four hours, three train rides, three cups of coffee, two bus rides, and a kilometer of walking up a village road.

 

From the trailhead, it was about 9 kilometers and 800 vertical meters to get to the Terrihutte, which is a beautiful stone structure on a point at the head of a valley.

 

The Terrihutte was built in 1925, although it has been renovated and expanded multiple times since. It has space for 110 in shared bunk rooms, as well as a full kitchen and a bar with cold beer and wine (as with most huts, restocking is done by helicopter). It also has electric power generated from the creek below, quite the luxury.

Food at the hut was simple but hearty. Potatoes, meats, soup, breads, butter, and salads are typical, all served family style in a dining room that offers ridiculous views.

 

The huts are also highly social places, even if you don’t speak the language. We were generally sitting across the table from someone who hiked the same hard kilometers that we did, which means we had a few things in common–including sore feet and tired legs. And, despite our ugly American language skills, many of our fellow hikers were gracious enough to reach out in English (which was a good thing, as hearing Reto and his family laugh as I tried to say the word for “three” in Swiss German wasn’t very encouraging).

 

The next day we headed up and over our high point at Greina Pass (2703 meters) to the Medelserhutte. It was a 15 kilometer hike, including some scrambling and a descent of a long snowfield. There were also some really fun glissades (the easy part) before a short ascent to the hut.

 

The Medelserhutte is in a saddle with a commanding view to the west. It is a smaller hut than the Terrehutte, with 55 bunks, but still plenty roomy. Despite an early-ish start to our hike, we didn’t get there until nearly 6pm–but that was still enough time to catch sun on the back patio and watch Capricorns (a type of bighorn sheep) run the hillside.

 

Looking back, Reto and Annika made it easy for us to do something that would have been very hard for us to do on our own (impossible?!), and for that we are very grateful. Visiting Switzerland with their help was priceless, spending time with them and their children before and after our hike was a treasure, and we are still glowing about our trip.

As for our time in the huts, I caught myself wondering how the Swiss built these places. But mostly I wondered why my legs were so sore. And then I wondered what another beer would taste like.

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Time Travel

My buddy Rick and I just got back to Virginia after spending a week touring the Yukon by dog team. Friends of ours, Wayne and Scarlett Hall, run a dogsledding business out of Eagle, Alaska, called Bush Alaska Expeditions, and they hooked us up with a great tour. Even getting to Eagle is a bit of an adventure, requiring a ride on the mail plane out of Fairbanks. Once in Eagle, we met up with another friend and guide, expert musher Nate Becker, before heading for the hills.

The country around Eagle has a long and interesting history, including a number of different Athabaskan tribes, fur trading dating back to the 1700s, and the 1896 Klondike Gold Rush that started near Dawson City (150 miles upriver). During the gold rush, people came north with big dreams, and some made (and lost) fortunes. Place names like Last Chance Creek, Bonanza Creek, and Hard Luck Creek tell a part of the story.

Our trip felt like a moving tribute to the hardy souls that lived and thrived up there a hundred or more years ago, almost like time travel. Back in the day, the frozen Yukon River was traveled by legends like Percy DeWolfe, who carried the mail back and forth between Dawson and Eagle from 1910 to 1949….when it costs 3 cents to send a first class letter. Another notable resident was Harry Karstens, nicknamed the Seventymile Kid, who came from Chicago to prospect for gold before becoming a “packer” hauling mining supplies for other prospectors. Karstens went on to lead the first ascent of Mount McKinley (now Denali) in 1912 and later became the superintendent of Mount McKinley National Park.

During the course of our week, the rich history of the Yukon revealed some of itself to us through the cabins along the river. A few of the cabins were historic, a few were relatively new, and a few were somewhere in between–but all were remarkable in their own way. The one constant is that they were generally spaced about a day’s mushing apart–which was good forethought by the folks that built these places.  Cabins along the Tatonduk River, the Nation River, and the Seventymile River were a welcome sight after a long day on the trail, just as they would have been in the early 1900s.

I’m sometimes asked why I am so captivated by Alaska, and I answer that it’s because it’s the way the world used to be. During the course of the week, it was easy to wonder what it must have been like back in the day–and each time that I stopped to warm my fingers, I was reminded that I probably wouldn’t have had what it took. I have no idea how people thrived in this land before fancy down jackets, goretex gloves, and bunny boots. That said, it was also inspiring to spend time with some of the people that are thriving there now, like Wayne, Scarlett, Nate, and Nate’s wife Ruby.

Our wonderful hosts obviously made this trip possible–but it’s also important to call out the true stars of the the week: those incredible canine athletes. One thing that I’m pretty sure hasn’t changed in the last 100 years is that Alaskan huskies are phenomenally fit, loyal, and eager to run. They are also incredibly reliable, as a dog team never breaks down on the trail (unlike a snowmachine…or snowmobile, in case you don’t speak Alaskan). Each morning, those huskies were ready to take us anywhere that we had the skills to go, and they also seemed completely impervious to the cold. As I adjusted layers a thousand times on the back of the sled, I remembered that my dog team was wearing exactly the same thing that it had on last summer.

After an amazing week, Rick and I came back from the Yukon with a new appreciation for the way the world used to be, and the way that it still is…at least up there.

Leaving The Rock

We closed out our trip to Newfoundland with a hike in Little Cove, just south of the village of Twillingate. Our hike took us to Jones Cove and then up and over the ridge to Lower Little Harbour.

The Twillingate hiking website listed this particular hike as easy, but we found it to be a bit more—four or so miles with a lot of up and down. Perhaps this was due to weather in the low 50s (Fahrenheit) and high winds (25-30 mph gusts), or maybe we are just flatlander tourists. In any case, the hiking was interesting, with sections of heavy forest, sections of bare rock, a summit ridge, and even a short stretch of rocky beach.

Along the way, we passed a natural arch and the remains of a settlement from the 1930s, including what was left of a restaurant called Kelley’s Sunset Chat. Our hike was a nice mix of nature, history, and exercise–including some scrambling and some up-hill climbs.

Back in Twillingate at Oceanview Retreat, we closed out our stay with another interesting Newfoundland dish, seafood chowder. It’s pretty clear why I haven’t lost weight on this trip.

Some other local dishes this week included Newfoundland fish cakes, pickled herring, and fried dulse. Menu staples here are highly seasonal, revolve around the sea as well as roots and berries, and have a simple charm about them.

We are back in Virginia now, but we have some great memories of “The Rock,” as Newfoundland is often called. We didn’t know much about any of these places before planning this trip, and now we’ll never forget them. The culture is interesting, the people are amazingly friendly…and there is so much more to see.

On our way to the airport in Gander, Souzz uttered the telltale phrase that marks the end of a great vacation: “I wish we had one more day.”

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Twilling-great

We’ve been having fun in and around Twillingate, Newfoundland, for the past few days. That includes a visit to Auk Island Winery, some hiking, and a sampling of some of the local seafood. We’re up here in shoulder season, so a lot of businesses aren’t open…but we pretty much have the place to ourselves (along with 2,500 delightfully friendly residents).

Of course, the hiking trails around Twillingate don’t ever really close down (depending on your tolerance for cold weather, I guess), and we had an awesome day for a hike. After a visit to Crow Head and Long Point Lighthouse, we enjoyed hikes to French Beach and French Head. The views were stunning, the sky was crystal blue, and we were the only folks around.

As nice as the hiking was, the highlight of the day was our visit to Auk Island Winery, where we chatted with our friendly host, Nicole, for nearly an hour. She shared a lot of insight into their berry wines, and also shared her love for Twillingate and the surrounding country. We covered a lot of ground, including stories of Nicole’s travels to the Dominican Republic and Cuba, and a brief conversation about her experience during 9-11.

Our cottage in Twillingate is really terrific, located up on a bluff overlooking the harbour with windows across the whole back of the place. I’ve gotten more vitamin D on the porch here in the last few days than in the last month. And Souzz has spent every possible moment enjoying the sounds of the waves slapping against the rocks in Twillingate Harbour. The cottage also includes a full kitchen, which is a great luxury.

As for the kitchen, we’ve continued our obsession with local cuisines and regional dishes. Our menu has included cod, Atlantic salmon, mussels, and lobster. Also on the list is a locally bottled rum called Screech, a brand that has been somewhat taken over by tourists but is a regional specialty just the same.

As the Screech story goes, an American military officer stationed here back in the day let out a loud screech the first time he took a shot. Whether that is true or not is hardly the point. We tried it straight up, and also made our own signature cocktail with pineapple juice and cinnamon, which Souzz called a Twillingate Tangle. Pineapples and cinammon aren’t native to Newfoundland, but neither are we–so we figured why not.

In addition to the cod, salmon, and Screech, there are some more obscure traditional foods, like seal flipper pie, pickled herring, and a natural sea vegetable called dulse. We are still looking for seal flipper pie (it’s out of season, much to Souzz’s relief), but we have found the herring and the dulse and they are on the menu for the next few nights (wish me luck).

So far, our dinners have included cod au gratin, steamed mussels, maple smoked salmon, and lobster risotto (ok, so risotto isn’t really a Newfoundland dish). As I watch the waves roll in, I appreciate that the ocean is the source for food here more often than not. Let’s hope that Souzz agrees. 🙂

Is Gander In Canada?

We just headed off to Gander, Newfoundland for a quick trip. So where is Gander, you might ask? We knew this place was a bit off the beaten path when we checked into our flights on Air Canada, and Jessie, the Air Canada agent, asked “is Gander in Canada?”

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Gander is a town of 10,000 that has an airport with a big runway and a lot of aviation history. A walk through town reveals streets named after Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, Eddie Richenbacker, and Chuck Yeager. Gander was a stopover for almost all trans-Atlantic flights back in the day—until fuel capacities got bigger in the 1970s. And Gander continues to be a safe haven for flights over the North Atlantic that have mechanical problems (thankfully, that wasn’t us).

Gander also had a big role in helping the world on September 11, 2001, when US-bound planes were diverted here and 6500 passengers spent five days in town waiting for US airspace to re-open. The town’s population nearly doubled in just a few hours, and the people of Gander answered the call. They opened their homes to total strangers, the hockey rink was converted to a giant refrigerator to store food for the “plane people,” and citizens made weary travelers feel as comfortable as they could (imagine hearing this: “Hi, welcome to Walmart. Would you like to come to our house and take a shower?”).

Gander’s post-9/11 role was largely overlooked at the time, but it is an amazing story—even inspiring a musical that is playing now at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC called “Come from Away.” One of the many passengers stranded in Gander back in 2001 was so touched that she started a highly successful scholarship program for the high school in nearby Lewisporte. The stories from that time offered a ray of hope in the midst of a very dark time.

As for us, we took in a few local sites, including the Silent Witness Memorial, and then stopped by the North Atlantic Aviation Museum. The museum offered up some fascinating artifacts from Newfoundland’s rich aviation history, as well as a few more reminders of 9-11 (including a piece of steel from one of the Twin Towers).

From Gander, we headed on to Twillingate, about an hour and a half north, where we’ve rented a cottage overlooking the harbor. We are going to take in as much local culture as we can, hike a bunch, cook up some local treats, and perhaps learn a little more about a corner of the world that we don’t know that much about.

Looking for Sasquatch

The east coast has some fun destinations, including Great North Mountain, which forms the border between Virginia and West Virginia for about 50 miles. Much of the mountain is above 3000 feet, so the views across neighboring valleys are among the best around. The area also has a well-developed trail system, including a few summits that offer 360-degree views (ok, so I guess you can actually see in multiple directions from any place).

This weekend’s trip was to Sugar Knob Cabin, which was built in 1920 as a shelter for rangers patrolling the George Washington National Forest. Nowadays the cabin is managed by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and is rented out to backpackers willing to make the six mile (round trip) trek.

I have backpacked past this modest 10 foot square stone structure many times, dating back to the mid-1980s, and have always been curious about it. I was invited inside once by a few new friends on a rainy day, but I had never stayed there–until this past weekend.

Souzz and I arrived at the trailhead on Forest Service Road 92 on Saturday morning, heavy on food but light on everything else. We carried just a small butane stove, a first aid kit, headtorches, a small lantern, a water filter, a few extra clothes…and the frybake, which I carry with me at all times (in case somebody needs an emergency casserole). As for water, there’s a spring not far from the cabin, and we’d been told that the cabin was stocked with pots, pans, utensils, axes, a wood stove, and pretty much anything else we were likely to need.

The hike in was steady uphill (1500 feet of elevation gain), but not too steep. Little Stony Creek runs right along much of the trail, and there were some nice views as we got closer to the ridge. The hike seemed longer than three miles, suggesting that the map is wrong…or perhaps suggesting that most hikers don’t carry a 6-pack, a bag of charcoal, a mini-cooler, and a four course meal.

The area has a deep history, including a moonshine operation in the 1930s, a tragedy in the 1950s (sadly, a scout leader got lost near here in in a winter storm), a lot of bear sightings, and even a pretty recent Bigfoot sighting.

As for Bigfoot, a hiker wrote that his group was staying in Sugar Knob Cabin and saw “a dark, very hairy large face looking at us about a foot outside the window.” Hmm…that sounds suspiciously like just about everybody I’ve ever hiked with (except Souzz).

With no Bigfoot sightings to amuse us, we were left to enjoy this fabulous spot. Sugar Knob Cabin is cozy and quaint, and one could almost feel the history of the place. Looking around inside at the stonework and the wood stove, I wondered what those walls would say if they could talk (perhaps something like “man, Souzz’s husband is a total blowhard.”)

As for dinner, we started with cheese and salami, then moved on to steamed mussels and fresh-baked bread (from the frybake). The mussels appetizer was pre-cooked with tomato and garlic sauce by a company called Bantry Bay. We highly recommend this dish–but I suppose there is a carbon impact when one eats mussels from Chile sold by an Irish company while hiking in the Blue Ridge. All told, it did feel like a big foot print (so to speak).

We followed the mussels with filet mignon, mashed fingerling potatoes, and green beans with mushrooms. It was great to eat next to the fire, and the weather was perfect.

After dinner, we enjoyed the fire, made “break and bake” cookies in the frybake, and marveled at the beautiful starry night sky.

As we soaked in the sounds of crickets and tree frogs, all was well in our world–until Souzz was startled by a huge, smelly, hairy creature tromping around near the cabin.

I was just getting some more wood.

Magical Place, Magical Pace

After attending a great wedding in Homer and then visiting Tutka Bay Yurt, we closed out our recent Alaska trip with a stay at Water’s Edge Cabin–a fabulous property near Homer that overlooks Halibut Cove Lagoon. Like the yurt, the cabin is well managed by Alison, Melanie, and the great folks at True North Kayak Adventures.

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Water’s Edge is about 40 minutes by water taxi from Homer, and it offers a lot of things that most Alaskan cabins don’t—like a propane stove, a propane oven,  running water (albeit stream water that needs to be filtered), oil lights, and a propane refrigerator (!). There’s no electricity, but that’s part of the charm (and who needs electricity, anyway?). Overall, the amenities at Water’s Edge are rivaled only by the view…well, actually, the view surpasses them!

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The covered porch was awesome, as was waking up in the second floor loft. The cabin was built with windows from floor to ceiling, so Halibut Cove Lagoon was with us every step of the way. The lagoon is full of life, including bald eagles, sea otters, loons, the occasional Dall’s Porpoise, and probably a lot of other stuff we never even saw. The sounds alone, including loons and a ton of bird life, were amazing.

Over the course of the next four days, we hiked on the awesome trail system in Katchemak Bay State Park, we kayaked, we cooked (of course), and we spent as much time as we could on that amazing porch.

In addition to the fridge and stove/oven, Water’s Edge boasts a spacious kitchen that was very well stocked. Forgot cumin? No problem, it’s right there on the shelf. Need more olive oil? Got it. It was a luxury for us to have so much room to cook, and so many supplies on hand.

With access to a fridge, we were able to have a fresh seafood theme on the trip–with halibut, king salmon, and king crab headlining the menus.

For the halibut, we used our friend Steve’s recipe. He cubes halibut into one inch squares, dips them in pancake batter, then rolls in Panko, and fries the cubes in an oil that can handle high temperature (peanut oil, grapeseed oil, etc.). Steve tells us he just made up the recipe, quite the imagination. I imagine we are going to be making this dish again.

A highlight of our trip was our kayak/hike to Grewink Glacier. It was fun to combine a paddle and a hike, as getting to the trail head required timing the tides pretty carefully. It was also a great chance for Souzz to be Survivor Woman, as I forgot to bring rope to secure our kayak. With the tide rising, Souzz scrounged a piece of rope off of an old buoy on the beach and saved the trip!

Grewink Glacier was stunning, even though the weather was pretty spotty on our visit.

In addition to paddling and hiking, we fished, we picked blueberries, salmon berries, and watermelon berries, we read, and we relaxed a lot on that amazing porch. We got into the easy pace of the lagoon, and yet the days seemed to fly by. When our water taxi came to bring us back to Homer, we really didn’t want to leave.

Alaska is a big geography and we try not to visit the same place twice. But this was a magical place with a magical pace, and we might just need to go back.

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An Odyssey In Homer

Souzz and I were just at a wedding in Homer, Alaska, a few hundred miles south of Anchorage. Traveling to Homer from Virginia is a bit of an odyssey—9 hours in the air, a few airport layovers, and then a five hour drive…so of course we tacked on a little adventure to our trip.

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But first, the wedding was…um, fabulous! It was an outdoor celebration for great friends at a venue that overlooked Katchemak Bay–with glacier views, whales swimming by, a surprise visit from a guy on horseback, and an after-party with a big bonfire on the beach. Granted, we’re from “Outside,” as Alaskans say about folks from the lower 48, but it felt like a very Alaskan event to us.

After the wedding, we (along with a lot of gear and food) took a water taxi ride to Tutka Bay, just across from the Homer Spit. We headed to a yurt that was our home for the next few days. There are a bunch of yurts in Katchemak Bay State Park that can be rented through Alaskan Yurt Rentals; all are well maintained by Alison and the fabulous folks at True North Kayak Adventures. Ours was very secluded, up on a cliff about 30 feet above the bay.

If you aren’t familiar with yurts, the are sort of a cross between a tent and a cabin. Yurts are somewhat portable and offer a lot of space, as well as storm-proof shelter. They originated in central Asia and have been around at least 3,000 years.

Our yurt thankfully was a little newer than that, and it offered a propane stove for cooking, a wood stove for heat, bunks, and a lot of flat space for cooking. Best of all, its location on Tutka Bay also offered us the chance to kayak around watching humpback whales, sea otters, bald eagles, loons, and one (very surprised) black bear.

As for our meals, we of course shopped ahead of the time, including a stop at a terrific local seafood market called Cole Point Seafood Company. Over the course of the next few days, we enjoyed steamed mussels, halibut fish tacos, king salmon, and fresh shrimp with garlic and lime. We also made a Julia Child favorite called potato gratin a al savoyard.

For dessert, we took advantage of the ample space and made a key lime pie, tapping into some advice that we got from Chef Scott Fausz, the pastry chef at nearby Alyeska. He gave us a bunch of tips, including recommending that we use meringue powder instead of egg whites (due to the high humidity).

Based on a sample size of one, we agree about the meringue powder. Our pie came out excellent, and the meringue had soft peaks despite the rainy weather. To bake the pie, we used a frybake with 12 coals on top and 6 on the bottom for 30 minutes, and we made the meringue with a hand-crank mixer (16 minutes of cranking!).

Looking back, our first yurt experience was pretty awesome. We saw a ton of wildlife, we went tidepooling, and we just generally forgot about the city life. The days went by too fast–and it was easy to see the allure of the lifestyle in and around the bay, where everything revolves around the water.

With our adventure complete, we headed back to Homer by water taxi and found our way to another cabin in Halibut Cove Lagoon (but that’s another story for another blog). The only thing missing from our Homer odyssey was hearing the sirens sing, but maybe that comes later?